Persona So Great-a
We are very fortunate to have a great event space here at Spyder Trap. We use it for our team, for our clients, and for industry groups in the area. So, when I heard that the Minneapolis chapter of the Content Strategy Meetup needed a venue for their March event I ignored my inner introvert and volunteered to host and present.
In chatting with the event organizer, it became clear that the topic of buyer personas was ripe for further conversation. While there are countless resources available online, it seems that many marketers are still uncertain about how to get buy-in and go about applying, and building buyer personas campaigns. We agreed that exploring these questions further would make for a productive (and hopefully enjoyable!) event.
Build The Team
Now that I’d talked my way into an opportunity, it was time to do some internal recruiting. So, I reached out to our UX Designer, Kasia Wasko, to help me craft a presentation. Kasia has a deep background in user research and persona development. She’d be the perfect partner to work with on this project.
“Our understanding of users, their needs, and behavior is paramount to creating quality experiences.” – Kasia Wasko
Research and Build Personas
Now that we had our team assembled it was time to give some thought to our personas for this event. What data could we rely on? Here’s what we did:
- Created a survey using Google Forms and shared it on the event page
- Attended other Meetups to get a sense for the types of questions and concerns that marketers have
- Made assumptions based on our own experience learning about and using personas
In the end this was the persona we crafted:
Pretty basic, right? Sure, but that’s ok! Marion might not be the most fleshed-out persona ever created, but she’s based on real data. And most importantly she would give us a target to keep in mind as we developed our content.
Create and Publish Content
With our team and our persona in place it was time to build our presentation. Now, as I mentioned earlier, a simple search will turn up tons of great resources on creating personas. And yet, our research made us reasonably confident that there is still great deal of uncertainty around their purpose, creation, and utility.
We wondered, why?
It’s certainly true that creating personas can feel like fumbling around in the dark. The search for meaningful data is like grasping for a light switch, or even a match. Stubbed toes and bruised shins are to be expected. Personas are slippery sometimes (a lot of the time). It’s also true that stakeholders may use personas for widely varied purposes. Crafting a tool that marketing, sales, product development, the C-suite and others can all buy in to is a daunting challenge.
In the end, we determined that the best presentation that we could create for Marion would be one in which the entire group was encouraged to share their perspective. So, we wrote a deck that looked at personas from a who, what, where, why and when perspective. Then we prepared to ask our audience these questions as well.
The results were outstanding (if I do say so myself). We had a great turnout of engaged and curious content strategists. We fully met our goal of turning our presentation into a conversation. The interaction was boisterous, informative, and, based on audience feedback, helpful and encouraging.
So, what did we learn? Well, first of all, we were reminded that the Twin Cities are home to a bustling community of UX practitioners and content strategists who are incredibly generous with their knowledge and insight. We were reminded that a meeting (a Meetup?) of the minds often returns results that are superior to a thousand Google searches.
In terms of personas themselves, we learned that user research doesn’t have to be expensive, or terribly difficult. The most important ingredient is the willingness to ask thoughtful questions, and listen carefully to the answers.
We learned that building useful personas often involves a bit of detective work. It’s important to keep our eyes peeled for clues. They might come from Google Analytics or CRM data, or from interviews with users and stakeholders, or from field research.
We were reminded that personas are always a work in progress. If your sparkly new, data-driven and empathetic personas are immediately filed and then forgotten? Stop it! Advocate for them to stay front and center. Then, if new data suggests that they need to evolve, be prepared to challenge assumptions and iterate.
And finally, we learned that it’s not unusual to struggle with these questions. At no point in the process is anybody going to slap a gold star on your persona work and assure you that you’re done. We may have to keep fumbling in the dark forever, but it helps to know what we’re not alone while we do.